One Moment in Time


(I have been writing short stories about the stories I have covered over the years and what lessons they have taught me. This is one of them.)

When I came to work this December morning in 1976, I had no idea I was about to deliver some news that would make a man collapse in tears into my arms.

It was cold, but clear when I walked to the car in the TV station parking lot. We packed our gear into the brightly colored Chevy painted with the letters WFRV 5-Country Eyewitness News. The photographer and I had a two-hour drive ahead of us. I had argued against doing this story at the morning meeting because it had happened overnight and by the time we would get from Green Bay to Peshtigo, Wisconsin there would be no story left to get. But, we were told to go, and we did.

It was just a short 5 sentences we ripped off the Associated Press wire. It said, “Three people died in a house fire overnight. A mother and her two children were killed when the fire spread quickly. Firefighters worked in the cold to put out the blaze. The preliminary cause blamed the husband for over-filling a wood stove. One firefighter was injured”. I called the fire department before heading out on the road; the dispatcher said they were still mopping up at the scene.

It was about noon when we arrived on the outskirts of Peshtigo. It was my first time there, but it was a famous place to people from Wisconsin. We had all heard about the great Peshtigo fire in our history classes. In 1871, on the same night as the great Chicago fire, a huge forest fire consumed the entire town. 1200 people died in the Peshtigo fire. There’s a museum there with all the details. Other than that, Peshtigo is just another beautiful, little Wisconsin town. Now, another fire there would affect my life.

We had the address of this overnight house fire and it was about two miles out of town on a two-lane country road. It was farm country, but on this day the ground was all white. The snow was thick on the fields and you could only see about half of the old wooden fence posts holding up rusted barbed wire.

We rounded a corner and saw the house. The white two-bedroom place was still standing…but most of the roof was gone and the white snow around it was covered with black soot and cracked pieces of wood and charred insulation that firefighters had ripped away during the firefight.

The driveway was short and rutted and it led to the side of the house and a small garage out back. As we pulled in we saw two fire trucks parked next to the garage. Several men were still pulling hoses into one of the trucks.

My photographer began shooting the scene and I walked up the slippery back concrete steps of the burned-out house. I entered through the kitchen. The ceiling had collapsed, so this tiny space was filled with charred wood and ceiling tiles. On the counter were the things that said “family”. I saw a cookie jar with a bear painted on the front. I saw mixing bowls and coffee cups.

I stepped over the debris and walked into a hallway leading to the front of the house. As I got to the living room, I stopped dead. It was hard to tell it was a Christmas tree. The fire made it look like black wrought iron and underneath it, surprisingly not burned, were toys and other remnants of a happy Christmas morning. Just 24 hours ago this family had shared a warm, loving holiday in this room. Now, the room was gone and most of the family was gone too. I just stood there. Across the room, I saw the wood stove that firefighters said was over-filled and caused this family tragedy.

We did the interview with the fire chief and were getting ready to leave when an official- looking car pulled up. It was the local fire marshal to inspect the place and confirm the cause. We hung around and found out that the preliminary cause; the overfilled stove was not the cause at all. Turns out, according to the fire marshal, it was an accident. A wire stapled into the wooden rafters in the basement had shorted out and the heat ignited some old insulation.

We headed into town for a sandwich, but something told me this story was not over. After eating at the local café, I said, “let’s make one more stop at the house before heading back to Green Bay.”

We drove into the driveway and noticed the fire trucks were gone. There was just one car parked in the back. As I walked toward the house, a man in a white t-shirt and black jeans walked toward me down the steps. His eyes met mine. His arm was in a sling and his face was covered with soot. My first thought was that this was the injured firefighter who had come back this morning to see the place.

The man took one step down and then sat down on those cold concrete steps. I walked up next to him and simply said, “Hi!” His eyes rose up and they filled with tears. He said, “I killed them.” My heart stopped. This man sitting here in front of me was the husband and the father of the 3 people who died just a few feet away in his burned-out house. “I killed them”, he repeated, “I filled that stove too full and I killed my own family.”

I found myself sitting next to him as he cried. My photographer had grabbed the camera and was standing about 15 feet away. He laid the microphone down nearby.

The husband and father just kept repeating, “I killed them, I can’t go on.” I wanted to tell him that he had not killed them, it was an accident just a faulty wire. Then I realized he didn’t know that. He had not met the fire marshal. He still thought it was his fault!

I grabbed his hand. I don’t know why. I said, “Listen to me, I am a reporter and I was here when the fire marshal found that it was not the overfilled stove, it was a short in a wire in the basement. It was an accident, it wasn’t you!” I heard my own voice. It sounded as if I was pleading for him to stop hurting. I wanted him to know. I wanted to help take away the pain.

He looked at me and said, “what?” I repeated the fire marshal’s story. The man started sobbing uncontrollably. He collapsed into my arms. I will never forget what he said to me. He said “I thought I had killed my family and I knew I could not live with that on my heart. I don’t know how I can live without my kids and my wife but knowing I didn’t kill them gives me something to hang on to. I was ready to just kill myself right here, right now.”

I told him, again, it was not his fault and he just cried. We sat there for about 15 minutes, not saying a word. Then he got up, looked back toward the door of the house where his loving wife and children had died. Then, he looked at me and said, “thank you.” He shuffled to his car and drove off.

Our drive back to Green Bay that day was very quiet. When I aired my story that night, we used the video of my encounter with this man and I shared my experience with the viewers.

It was “my” Peshtigo fire. Not the one history records in that museum, the one that killed hundreds of people back in the 1800’s, but a small fire one day after Christmas in 1976 that I will never forget. Even as a reporter you can’t forget you are still a person and you are part of the story.

A Very Close Call

(I am writing short stories about the TV news stories I have covered over the years and what they have taught me. This is one of them)

Most of the time we were rushing to stories, but this time the story came rushing to us with the velocity of a speeding bullet.

It was a rainy, cold fall day in Indianapolis in 1979 and I had worked all day. It was 7 p.m. and I returned home to my small, studio apartment on the north side when my pager went off.

As I grabbed a Coke from the refrigerator, I also grabbed the phone and called the assignment desk. They needed me to check out some police action developing in my neighborhood.

The photographer arrived at my apartment door a few minutes later in the Ford Bronco loaded down with equipment and we headed east just a few blocks to an apartment complex. The on and off rain of the day was now a cold downpour. You could hear the raindrops on the leaves of the trees surrounding the building.

When we pulled into the complex, the place was crawling with police. We were blocked from the main parking lot, but an officer told us the command post was set up around the south side of the building.

I walked over to the man in charge and he told me that a team of officers had tried to serve a warrant on a man in one of the apartments. This man was mentally unstable, he said, and the warrant was an authorization to take him in for treatment. But, instead of cooperating, the man had pushed the officers away, locked the apartment door and was threatening to shoot them. The cops believed he had several guns.

So far, they established phone contact with him, and the SWAT team was called to stand by. This was a stand off, but clearly the police were not interested in using force to take in a mental patient.

I called the assignment desk on the radio and told them the story. The night desk suggested I just stay there and see shat happens. It was going to be a long night.

We were with the cops in the parking lot, but we could not see the actual apartment and we knew if we were going to get any videotape to help tell the story we had to find a spot where we could see the action. This was the right thing to do, but it turned out to be a very dangerous thing to do.

It was now getting late and the rain was not letting up. The police were hunkering down for a long night of trying to negotiate with a crazy man to get him to lay down his guns and come out. We drove our news van into a school parking lot next to the apartment complex where we could see the double glass patio doors and the kitchen window of the apartment where the man was holed up. There was a small grove of trees between the building and us but the trees were sparse and we kept moving closer and closer to get a better look.

We got to a point where we were no more than 50 yards from that double glass door. We parked the truck and waited. I was in the driver’s seat. My photographer was in the passenger seat holding the camera so he could be ready if anything happened.

We could see the SWAT team in place on either side of the apartment. They were waiting, too. Inside the apartment, I could occasionally see the shadow of the man moving around. We waited and waited and waited for hours and the rain kept falling.

Then, suddenly, I heard a crash! I stood up next to the open driver’s side door and my photographer did the same on his side of the truck. He lifted the camera to his shoulder and I grabbed the microphone and held it above my head while standing behind the truck door.

The SWAT team had lobbed a tear gas canister into the apartment. I could see the gas billowing in the kitchen and the police with guns drawn beginning to move closer to those double glass patio doors. We had a great view of the action. The police were making their move and we were going to get it all on videotape. The tear gas worked, but it turns out our efforts to get the best pictures also put us directly in the line of fire.

I was standing behind the driver door and I saw the double glass patio door slide open. Out of the cloud of tear gas, I saw the man. He was coming out. He had a gun in each hand and they were pointed right at us. The police were yelling; I could not make out what they were saying. The camera was rolling the microphone was ready.

The man did not drop the guns; he started firing. The first bullet hit the front of our truck with a “ping”, but I really didn’t realize it was a bullet. I was focused on the man. Then the next bullets hit the grill “ping ping”. He kept shooting. My head was in the “V” formed by the truck door and the frame and I felt it brush my ear. A bullet had missed my head by less than an inch. I felt it whiz by”! I dove into the driver’s seat and so did my photographer. “Ping”, “ping”, “ping”, three more slugs hit the front of the truck. My photographer lifted the camera back up again pointing it toward the apartment. The man had stumbled on the lawn and the police had them in their sights. “Boom! Boom!’ The shotguns went off! The man fell, immediately. The stand off was over.

I looked at my photographer and I could see from the look on his face that he felt the same as I did. All I said was, “I guess we got too close” and he said, “I guess so.”
We were nearly killed. One headlight on the truck had been shattered. It was a very close call, but that fact became even more dramatic when we returned to the TV station early that morning and put the videotape into the playback machine.

The photographer had gotten it all! We had the billowing tear gas and the SWAT team ready to pounce. We had the patio door flying open and the man with the guns staggering outside. And, we had the bullets.

When the tape got to the point where the slug came close to me, it was the sound that shocked me. I was holding the microphone about two inches from my head while standing next to the truck. When I played the videotape, you could hear the bullet go past it and it is a sound I will never forget. That bullet went screaming past that microphone with a “zzzeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaammmmmmmmmmm!!”. I could actually hear how close I came to dying. I will never forget the sound of my very close call. Life is fragile.

The Big One That Got Away


(I am writing short stories about the TV news stories I have covered over the years and what they have taught me. This is one of them)

One of the ways we found stories to chase was to scour the small town, weekly newspapers from all over Wisconsin. Each community had its own publication filled with school lunch menus, library hours, obituaries and feature stories about their colorful residents. One morning in 1974, while working at WLUK-TV in Green Bay, I found a story I just didn’t believe, but I found out that it really was all about “believing”.

The headline in the Omro Herald was “Local Man Won’t Give Up Search for Giant Catfish”. Frank Tucker told his story to the local reporter about the day over a year ago when he was fishing one morning in his sun-bleached old boat in the pond behind his neighbor’s barn. Frank says he had never seen a catfish as big as the one on the end of his line. “It wasn’t a fighter”, he said, but it was huge. He explained how he rowed the boat toward the shore as he held the fishing pole pinned to the bottom of the boat with his work boot. Just as he got the giant catfish within 15 feet of the crumbling dock, there was a “swoosh” and the big fish got spooked. The thrashing, he said, ripped the hook from the fish’s mouth and it was gone. Frank said he said there alone in the morning sun thinking, “no one is going to believe me.” So, right there and then he made a pledge. He would come back every day and try to catch it again to prove he wasn’t crazy.

As I read his story in the newspaper, I knew I had to visit Frank and find out what really drove him to catch a fish he claims he once had on the end of his fishing pole. He was a character. My instincts told me he had something to teach me.

Two days later I was on my way, early on a Thursday morning. I made the turn off Highway 41 in Oshkosh and headed west. It is farm country, but many of the farms are gone, being replaced by new houses. Two more turns on those country roads and I saw Frank’s mailbox. He said I couldn’t miss it. Someone had carved a giant catfish with a mouth that opened for the mail.

Frank met me in the driveway and I grabbed my camera and microphone from the trunk. He wanted me to meet his wife Betty. She came to the door with a brown paper bag filled with sandwiches and those small bags of Lay’s potato chips. She said we would get hungry out there on the pond. She squeezed Frank’s hand, looked at me with a sly smile and said, “good luck, men.”

It was a short, quarter-mile walk down to the pond that I discovered did not have a name. It was just a pond behind the barn of a farmer who had died long ago. Another farmer who lived miles away now leased the land around it.

Frank kept his old rowboat tied to a dilapidated dock on the east side of the pond. “No one ever bothers it,” he said, “who would want this old thing anyway.” It was true. I was surprised the boat would even float. We loaded our lunch, his fishing tackle and my camera gear into it and he began slowly rowing.

He didn’t say anything for about 5 minutes. I just sat there enjoying the sunshine. He stopped rowing and said, “This could be the day.” I put the camera on my shoulder and clipped a microphone on Frank’s fishing vest while he set up his pole and his bait. He slipped a big piece of bacon fat on the end of that giant hook and tossed it overboard. If that huge catfish was hungry, it had a feast ready.

Frank told me the story again about that day when he hooked the monster fish. It was filled with details. He pointed to the spot when he first felt the tug on the pole and then how the fish kept moving and pulling the rowboat. It was going to be a great story. The light was beautiful and Frank was a great “talker.”

He, again, told me he would love to catch that fish again because he wanted to prove to his friends it was not just another big fish story. You could see he loved the hunt and he loved the pond and he loved being out in the fresh air.

He changed the bait several times in two hours. I shot more video of the pond and the cars driving by. I found out more about Franks life. How he met his wife Betty and how he had fought in World War II. At unchtime we ate our sandwiches.

At 1 o’clock we had not had a bite. Frank declared that fish never bite in the afternoon, so he began packing up his gear. As we walked back to the house, he apologized for not giving me a good story by catching the fish. I told him it was OK, and that it was still a good story about his life and his mission to catch it, someday. At the house, Betty greeted us again and I asked Frank to call me when he caught the fish. I wanted a picture of it to follow up.

The story aired the next day on WLUK Channel 11 in Green Bay. It was fantastic. My boss loved it and some viewers even called to congratulate us on doing the story. We got letters from people suggesting what special bait Frank should use to get his big fish.

About a month later I found a pink phone message slip on my desk when I arrived one morning. It said that Frank’s wife Betty had called. I was excited, because I was hoping Frank had gotten his fish. I was excited to see it and see his face, beaming.

I dialed the number and Betty answered. My voice was filled with energy as I said, “Hi Betty! Did Frank get his fish?!” She said, “Well, no Frank did not catch that catfish. Frank is gone. He died 3 weeks ago.” My heart sunk. She said, “He died in his sleep probably dreaming about that fish.”

I expressed my sympathy, but, I could tell Betty had more to say. I asked her if she was sorry Frank didn’t keep his promise to catch that big, old catfish he once had on the line in the tiny pond. She said, “Ross, there was never a real fish. But, that make-believe fish kept my husband alive. It was the hope he had everyday that his fantasy would come true, and that kept him moving and living and dreaming.”

I realized, that even for Frank, it was never about the fish. It was about hope. He believed his own story about that big fish, because if didn’t he would quit living. It was his way.

Betty said, “ Thank you, Ross, for letting Frank share his story.” We hung up.

Now, when I go fishing, I sometimes think of Frank. Even if there is no fish on the end of my line at the end of my day, there is always hope for the next day. Sometimes the stories we cover are not as simple as an old man, an old boat, a small pond and big fish story.

New boss, New attitude!

One of the things we will all face during our careers in broadcast journalism is change. One boss will quit or get fired and another will come in with new attitudes and new rules and new challenges. It’s a moment you can use to improve.
Before you meet the new person in-charge, re-examine your style, your interaction with fellow workers, your personal habits, your commitment to learning. Make a commitment to displaying a positive attitude and to smile more. After all, you are doing what you always wanted to do, right? If you aren’t then this is a good time to make a promise to yourself to discuss it with your new boss.
Think of ways you can volunteer to help your new supervisor. Show them that you are a team-player and not afraid to see problems and solutions in a new way. Remember, the new boss is coming to the job with new ideas, too.
Learn a new skill. This is a great time to add to your toolbox and make it clear to everyone that you are stretching yourself.
Sometimes when an old boss leaves, you feel uncomfortable. Use that feeling to make yourself better.

Can you “feel” the Story?

Conflict is an essential element of most stories, but conflict only scratches the surface when you are talking about emotional range. Conflict is the catalyst for the universal emotions such as fear, anger, frustration, happiness, and sadness. Can you show the quiet sadness or frustration of a family whose life was changed by a tornado? They are not yelling or crying or even talking. Does your emotional range allow you to recognize that emotional numbness?
How did you feel when your first child was born? How did you feel when you had your first kiss? If we are going to be great storytellers we need to experience life ourselves and then draw on those experiences to make our stories better. So, use the experiences in your own life to begin developing your emotional range. Think of how you felt on your child’s first day at school or when your grandfather died and find words in your stories to help us better understand the story you are covering today. Unless you look in the mirror and realize what you bring to the storytelling table, you will waste your “seasoning” and your story will suffer.
To begin finding and developing your emotional range in storytelling look back. Pull out your stories from the past two weeks and review them. Think about how you “felt” about doing that story and then think about how the people in the story felt. Did you capture those feelings? Did you show the quiet frustration of the city council member who is trying to do something good for her district? Or, did you just do the obvious and show the argument in the council chambers.
Dig into the emotions. Every story has them. It’s your job to find them and use them to help tell the story.

Never be in “stable” condition! Ever!!


Let’s get this right
There is no such thing as “stable” condition.

The official medical conditions are:
Grave Condition (vital signs unstable and in danger of dying)
Critical Condition (in danger of dying but vital signs relatively stable [every other condition means by definition “stable”]
Serious condition
Fair condition
Good condition

If a PR person says the patient is in stable condition, the next question to ask is “are they in critical condition, good, serious, fair?” Or dead (which their vital signs are stable since all but the temp will remain unchanged). “Dead” is the most stable you will ever be.

If they won’t tell you a condition, then the best thing to report is “we do not know the condition of the victim. The hospital will only say he/she is stabilized”.

The Best That You Can Do

Arthur's Theme
There is a song that was popular in the 1970’s. It is called “The Best That You Can Do” or “Arthur’s Theme” from the movie of the same name. Christopher Cross sang it. It’s about a man, sitting in a crowded jetliner, circling the airport and waiting the land in one of the most exciting cities in the world. As the line in the song goes, “When you are stuck between the moon and New York City, the best that you can do is fall in love”.

The message of that song came to back to me recently as I flew across the country caught between the sky and the landscape crawling by below me. I thought about the hundreds of stories I had covered during my more than 40- year career as a broadcast journalist. As I looked down at the small towns and the larger cities, I realized that many of the same stories I had told on TV were going on at that very moment in those same towns and cities. People were down there arguing, usually over politics. People were celebrating a victory and others were crying because they had just lost their house to a fire or a family member to a tragedy. There were police officers doing their job and firefighters risking their lives. All the things I had seen and reported on during my professional career were happening again, over and over again, every minute of every day. They were the same stories about people with different names and faces.

So, the question I ask you, if you claim to be a great storyteller, is what makes your stories different than mine? If we are all covering the same celebrations and tragedies and challenges and arguments, then why are your stories worth investing my time to listen or watch or read or share?
Don’t expect me to give you the answer. Truthfully, it is the question that is more powerful! Ask yourself that question every time you get an assignment or pitch a story at a morning editorial meeting. Before you speak, remember that the story you are suggesting has already been done hundreds of times in other places by other reporters. Decide what you are going to do to make your story different. You may not find the answer the first time you try this exercise. It’s more difficult than you think. But keep trying. Everyday, look at other stories and try to identify the “nugget” of newness, or the moment when the story surprised you. Focus on that. Make it “new” for you. That is what is compelling.

So, here I am looking at the landscape below from my airplane window and thinking about all the stories that are happening down there and remembering the times I said, “I have done the same story before”. I realize now each one is different, but it is up to me to find the difference and tell it that way.

Challenge yourself to try this when you plan your next assignment and listen to the classic song by Christopher Cross. Maybe, it will inspire you too.

Is “Gun violence” the right term to use?

thJ5UB15AF Journalists have been talking a lot about “gun violence” recently. I am not sure that is the right combination of words to use.

When I was a boy, my father and grandfather took me deer hunting in Wisconsin. They taught me gun safety and we talked about shooting animals for sport and for food. I didn’t kill anything on those hunting trips, but I learned a lot. Guns can be used for good and for evil.

Now, my point. Journalists understand that their words are powerful and can add gasoline to an already fiery debate. I am wondering if using the term “gun violence” in our stories and our graphics is unwittingly showing bias and taking a political stand. As I am writing this, I am watching the sheriff in Florida on TV talking about the need for law enforcement to have more power to investigate threats made by people. He said, “when someone tells a friend that they want to grow up to be a serial killer, we need the power to fully investigate that person”. He was not talking about a gun being the violent threat, he was warning us about people being violent.

Now, before you start accusing me of being sympathetic to the NRA, let’s consider the words we use as journalists and our responsibility to be accurate. That question is the only question I am proposing. We don’t use the term “vehicle violence” when we write stories about car accidents involving speed or impaired driving. We don’t use the term “knife violence” when we write stories about stabbings. So, why do we use “gun violence” when talking about shootings? Talk about this in your newsroom.

I asked my friend and fellow journalist Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute this question and I want to share some of what he said. We need to have this debate to make us better communicators. Tompkins said, “I think gun violence might be different from gun use for something other than violence (hunting, sport) for example.” In other words, use the words that best describe the situation.

Guns are objects. They are not inherently violent. Using the term “gun violence”, I believe, is an editorial decision that needs to be considered carefully. Another example are the terms “pro-life” and “anti-abortion”. Pro-life is a description being promoted by those who are against abortion because it sounds better. Journalists need to use “anti-abortion” because it more accurately describes the movement and not the marketing strategy.

So, next time there is a shooting and you are the journalist assigned to write the story, think about this discussion and the term “gun violence”. Is it the right term to use?

Anchoring Breaking News

When it “hits the fan”, the anchors backside hits the chair.  If you made the transition to the studio desk from a field reporter, you already have many of the skills you need to handle breaking news.  If not, there are some basic things you can do to make you shine in that anchor hot seat.

Before I get into the specifics, there is one main job you have when there is a news crisis. You must be a newsroom leader.  Even before hitting the air, you must remain calm, stay focused and personally organized.  The producers and others in the newsroom will be looking to you to set the tone.  Your actions and demeanor will give the entire organization confidence at this time of professional chaos.

TAKE INVENTORY           

Make your way to the set or the flash cam, but always make a quick stop at the assignment desk to thank them in advance for keep you “in the loop”.   Make a list of what you know and what video or live pictures you have.  But, also make a list of what the desk is working to get you.  Tell them the best way to get you information.

BE A VIEWER

When you first go on the air you will have very little information and you must immediately set the scene.  Many times all you will have is the video from a helicopter or live truck.  The viewers are seeing what you are seeing and they have questions about what they are seeing.  Where is that? What’s that corner? Why are those cars’s there?  Who are those people?  How far is it from a mall, school, government building?  Be curious along with your viewers. It will give you something to talk about with the viewers until more information becomes available.

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

Telling the viewers what you DON”T know is an important tool when you are ad-libbing breaking news.  The viewers need assurance that you understand they need certain information and that you and the news team are working on getting it.  Tell them that you have calls into officials.  Tell them you have a reporter on the way to get that part of the story and let them know you what you don’t know to reassure them that as soon as you DO know they will get it from you and your station.

BE A FRIEND

Depending on the nature of the breaking news, you may need to look into the camera and just be a friend to the viewer.  During the Northridge earthquake here in Southern California, all of the anchors had to repeatedly endure aftershocks while on the air.  The viewers were feeling the same aftershocks and their favorite TV news anchor helped many get through those frightening moments.  So, whether it’s a school shooting, or major fire, or plane crash or some natural disaster, remember that the viewers are tuning you in for comfort and information.

BECOME A TEAM

This sounds simple, but it is the most difficult thing you will have to do.  Sharing the duties with your co-anchor during breaking news is tougher than winning Dancing with the Stars!  The best way to make the most of your teamwork is the listen.  Listen to what your co-anchor is saying even though the producer may be talking to you in your ear.  Another tip is to become a producer on the set.  Constantly work out with your partner who will talk first, who will do the re-cap, who throws to the next live shot.  If you wait for the booth to do it, your coverage will lose its edge.

LEAD SOCIAL MEDIA

You will likely be getting information first from crews in the field or from a producer. Make sure you are leading the station’s social media effort. Viewers are trusting you on-the-air, they need to trust you on social media as well. It does not matter that you are on-camera, post anyway. Tell viewers you are posting the latest and newest info. Share videos or info about how you are gathering info. Share emergency responder phone numbers or evacuation information.

All of this brings us back to the first point I made.  As anchors, the entire team looks to you for leadership during chaotic news situations.  Big market or small market, the anchor is the primary reporter during breaking stories. When it “hits the fan” don’t duck or run or sit back and wait for others to lead. Earn your anchor dollars and respect and win during breaking news.

 

PRODUCER MAGIC!

I am not a producer. I am an anchor/reporter, but I believe producers possess a magic potion, a wizard-like power to create a powerful, positive newsroom culture. Recently, I completed a story by wrapping a live intro and tag around a package. I was out at a local high school and it was a hot day. The story was nothing special, but I thought I did a good job and had a unique angle. I was satisfied.  As soon as I tagged the live story and before I could put the microphone down, the producer said in my ear, “great story Ross, thanks for the effort”.     I smiled, put down the microphone and felt good.  You might think this kind of simple compliment is common. Unfortunately it is not. But, it is magic!  Producing a newscast must be a tremendously tough and pressure-filled job, but most good producers know that part of that job is managing people.   The small, simple compliment given to me by the producer that day made me want to do anything for her and the rest of the news team.    So, from someone on the outside to those on the inside, realize that a simple positive word or compliment is a powerful management tool.

As your day in front of that computer develops, pay attention to crews or reporters who are doing a particularly difficult story or one that you know is taking a lot of energy or time.  They will deserve your kind words and you can turn a frustrating day into a positive one.     BE A MANAGER In the field, reporters manage their crews. They compliment them, organize them, buy them a soda or anything to try to build a team feeling.  Producers need to do that too.  There are times when you thought you had a great program and it aired flawlessly and no one said a word.  Be the kind of manager who knows the power of the compliment.  Make it part of your morning preparations to decide which field team you will pay attention to that day and give them encouragement   Good managers motivate, and so do good producers.  BE SINCERE  Don’t just pay lip service.   Word will get around if you are just going through the motions.   There is no reason to compliment a field team that let you down or came up short.   But, if there is some one thing that is good, like a particular shot or interview or interview question, point it out and tell the reporter or photographer they “hit a home run” with that  one.   BE RESOURCEFUL  If you are too busy during the newscast, send a note.   Email or “top-line” it does not matter, but it will let the field teams know you appreciate their work and when you ask for more the next day chances are you will get it.   The same goes for the team at the assignment desk or graphics.  Jot a kind word on a sticky note and let them find it on their computer.  If you are reading this and find yourself thinking this is just common sense, you are right!  If you find yourself saying, I don’t have time to baby-sit the whinny reporters and photographers in the field, then you are also sometimes right.   Of course, they are whinny babies, but it’s in your power to change that.   I call it producer magic.    By the way, when I returned to the station I went over the producer and thanked her for the compliment. I told her it meant a lot to me. She smiled. It works.